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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Weaving a Future for the Arts in Education Through Technology

It may seem an irony to some, but technology is playing a significant role in ensuring that the arts are a core subject area in the K-12 curriculum. Interactive networking technologies are providing students and teachers with greater opportunities to experience firsthand the visual images, sound, and motion that embody the arts--as well as to discover the interdisciplinary and multicultural dimensions of arts education. This natural synergy between the arts and technology in education is helping artists, arts educators, and generalists to shape a new grassroots vision and knowledge base for arts education that we believe has three key components.
First, it is clear that arts education must evolve rapidly as a community of interest that nurtures itself through purposeful and dynamic interaction among its members, similar to the high level of Internet-based sharing of ideas and examples among students, teachers, and professionals that has existed in science and math education. The education reform movement (particularly the America 2000 and Goals 2000 initiatives of the '90s) has forced visual arts, dance, music, and theater educators to perceive themselves as one professional community striving for equity as a member of the larger education community. The Goals 2000 platform also has provided an important opportunity and benchmark for the arts education community to work together and achieve consensus on a single issue--national standards for the arts; in fact, the arts became the second subject area to present approved national standards to the Secretary of Education. Teachers are seeking to improve and expand their communication with each other and with colleagues from other fields in order to implement these new standards and the interdisciplinary teaching strategies they require. Networked telecommunications applications will play a major role in transforming the way we teach about and through the arts in the future.
Second, technology-based tools will enable teachers and students to have greater access to arts-based materials and resources. Students and teachers will no longer be limited to 45-minute art and music classes and infrequent (if at all) field trips to galleries or performance halls. The Internet and new multimedia applications will provide opportunities to experience the full range of visual and performance content in real time and to access them in multimedia databases. New World Wide Web applications like Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) and Hot Java will enable students to take virtual backstage tours and virtual field trips, as well as to gain three-dimensional visual access to treasured artifacts in conjunction with a particular theme or concept.
Third, arts education in the future will be affected by technological applications that offer new means for creating art, whether visual or performance-based. Networking technologies are providing students with tools and facilities to extend hands-on experiences beyond the traditional classroom or studio. Using tools like CU-SeeMe, students can collaborate in real time with peers from around the world. The Web provides an opportunity for students to build portfolios of work that allow for reflection and assessment--important not only to arts education but also to the educational process in general. As students share their creative ideas on the Net, they will also develop curatorial skills and an appreciation of why and how the arts should be preserved and shared as part of the world's cultural heritage.
There are numerous obstacles to achieving the above--some that are peculiar to visual and performing arts content and others that are common in today's fluid educational technology environment. Copyright and union issues surrounding both real-time and recorded dissemination of performances and performance-based resources must be resolved in order to realize the great potential of interactive and networked technologies for arts education. There are also issues regarding the quality and content of arts-based resources, as well as the appropriateness of generally unlimited access to anything on the Internet.
The good news is that there is a rapidly growing networked community of artists, arts educators, and general educators who have embraced technology as an exciting vehicle for introducing young people to the visual and performing arts. Innovative teachers will use technology to enrich the K-12 curriculum with dynamic visual and performing arts experiences. In so doing, they will help to reach national and state education goals, while also nurturing and strengthening a greater sense of the cultural heritage at local and national levels.
The propensity and capability of artists and arts educators to collaborate with each other and with other subject area colleagues will be a significant factor for the survival of arts education in the 21st century. We are just beginning to experience the first wave of arts educators (primarily visual arts and music teachers) who are taking advantage of interactive technologies in both mainstream and creative ways. ARTSEDGE, the Kennedy Center's national arts and education network, established a K-12 ArtsEd listserv in mid-summer of 1995, and within six weeks, over 250 subscribers were engaging in a wide range of discussion issues.1 Online bulletin boards like NetForum are also proving to be of value to teachers seeking specific assistance from each other.
The exchanges from the listservs and bulletin boards hosted in ARTSEDGE's Community Center indicate the grassroots appeal of and need for this kind of mechanism to discuss (and sometimes resolve) long-standing pedagogical issues. For example, arts educators have engaged in a lively dialogue about teaching strategies that employ metaphorical examples to help students connect "meaning" to the arts discipline. The use of Disney's Fantasia to teach about music generated considerable discussion that was threaded online as "Referentialism" (and later evolved into "Drawing as Language" and still later "Syntax in Painting"). Other discussions have evolved around "teaching teachers about the arts" and the pressures on arts educators to expand curricula, as illustrated by the posting of a controversial news article entitled, "Rather Than Play Salsa, Orchestra Teacher Quits." The online community center will continue to provide a mechanism for teachers to rally around advocacy issues (such as the recent funding cuts for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities). There is also growing participation by teachers other than arts specialists who simply want to share anecdotal information that promotes and supports the arts in education. An example of this type of posting comes from Bonnie Bracey, a classroom teacher from Arlington, Virginia, who was appointed as the teacher representative on the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council:
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 1995 16:34:49 -0400
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: Ever have a student shock you with their art? Good!!
These students I remember. We went to the Capital Children's Museum to see the exhibit on communication and technology. I asked students to draw a picture of what they saw. One student said to me, well what exactly of the things did you see that you want drawn? I said, well I know you can't draw everything, but what did you see that really impressed you.
He drew the whole room in detail; it was more beautiful than a photograph because of the way he drew it even to the tiniest detail. This was a child others had written off. Stupid they called him. Yes, he became an artist. But now he illustrates medical journals. I took him to classes at the Smithsonian in the naturalist center. Found a mentor for him.
Another child, Omar, was Hispanic, and people had dismissed him as a student. He was very quiet. He was worried about Los Angeles when the earthquake happened. He looked at Restless Earth, a laser disc program from NGS. He looked at the news. He started to draw photographs of his impressions of the fire and the damage. He began to study the earthquakes and legends of volcanoes and earthquakes. He kept a diary. He collected photographs and made a hyperstudio program. It was the first time I knew that he spoke English. He spoke softly but he drew pictures powerfully. Later he drew from the culture of the Maya to illustrate Chac and other figures. Students reached out to him and involved him in their projects. He could also write poetry. Then the math came and the science. Then scholarship and confidence.
Having art materials in the classroom and using them not as a reward but as a part of the classroom landscape is a beginning for child who learns in this way. What can you share?
As the capability for managing and archiving interactive areas becomes more sophisticated in the future, and as bandwidth availability increases, teachers will have expanded opportunities to learn from each other. This will impact the design and delivery of professional development opportunities for teachers in the arts. It will be possible, for example, for teachers from any location nationally to join other teachers for a real-time videoconferenced master class at the Kennedy Center conducted by members of the Dance Theater of Harlem--or to enter into a real-time discussion with Arthur Mitchell himself (who enjoys interacting directly with K-12 teachers and students). It will also be possible to provide similar professional development opportunities at the regional level, through local performing arts institutions and performing arts companies; for example, teachers could have access to ongoing support throughout the school year via online discussion and curriculum development.
This kind of community building should lead to greater public awareness and support for the arts as part of education reform. As the infrastructure for educational programming continues to move toward interdisciplinary planning and resource sharing, technology will enable the arts education community to provide specific examples of why and how the arts make a difference. In the years ahead, the Goals 2000 Arts Partnership (a consortium of over 140 arts and education organizations established by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education) will build a substantial state-by-state support network of initiatives, information, and resources that will rely heavily upon ARTSEDGE and other technology-based communications systems.
Curriculum Development and Assessment
The combination of distance learning and networking technologies will enable teachers and students to collaborate with artists and colleagues as they plan, implement, and do follow-up evaluations of a curriculum unit or activity. It will be possible, for example, for a group of teachers drawn from geographically dispersed communities to develop and evaluate the results of a curriculum unit on African-American culture as defined through arts-based cultural traditions. This could include live interactive sessions between the teachers and several African-American artists (e.g., a dancer, a storyteller, a musician), followed by opportunities for teachers and students to work together with the artists. It could also include opportunities for both teachers and students to develop online portfolios (including audio, graphics, and eventually moving images) that would be important to the evaluation process.
A project at the University of California, Irvine, is demonstrating how to teach about diverse cultures through an interdisciplinary approach that uses interactive learning technologies. Students learn dances representative of specific historical periods and cultures--in this case, six different cultures--and also learn how to read and create dance notation. The curriculum units culminate with the creation of a CD-ROM (for which interactive networking opportunities are being developed) that includes a workbench area for students to create portfolios of their own resources related to the cultural theme. This type of multicultural application is helping to weave together the arts, humanities, and social sciences in a dynamic and productive learning environment.
Networking technologies provide opportunities for young people and adults to develop the basic knowledge and skills necessary to appreciate and gain the most from the arts. Online examples of arts-based concepts and creative processes are important resources for preparing individuals to experience the exhilaration of listening to and watching a full symphony orchestra play a classic, or following the fluid movement of a group of modern dancers, or feeling the unique intensity of a dramatic moment between an actor and his audience. "What to Listen for in Music" is a good example of a Web-based site developed by the Kennedy Center in collaboration with Carl Malamud and the Internet Multicasting Service. The site provides an online glossary of musical terms and concepts, using audio files of musical examples and segments from a recorded lecture series. Internet Multicasting offers RealAudio format in order to allow lower bandwidth Internet users to listen without conventional audio lag.
Similar applications will enable students to experience virtual field trips to arts and cultural institutions that will enhance their eventual visits or provide access that would otherwise not be possible in the future. Many of the national cultural institutions in Washington, D.C., for example, are planning to establish or expand Web-based sites to provide a comprehensive overview of their collections and mission that is not possible with print materials. Within weeks of its debut, the Smithsonian became one of the most visited sites on the Web and has undoubtedly had an enormous impact on the typical American's perception of the institution and its enormous range of resources and services. Similarly, the Library of Congress has established the National Digital Library, which will make publicly available--in many cases for the first time--its rich collection of non-book treasures (early motion pictures, photographs, musical recordings, posters, etc.).
Using technology, students will assume a greater role in creating curriculum-based projects in the arts and sharing them with other students. For example, as part of Virginia's Anthology Project, third and fourth grade students from an elementary school in northern Virginia created a Web site about the Kennedy Center.2 The Eisenhower Theater freight elevator and the Presidential Box receive priority attention in this unusual (and humorous) perspective of our national center for the performing arts.
Perhaps the most important benefit of new networking technologies to the arts in education comes from access to primary source materials from arts and cultural institutions throughout the world. In recent surveys conducted by the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress, teachers indicated that direct access to primary source materials for themselves and their students was the most value-added component of networked information and resources. Guidance and examples about how best to use these resources for interdisciplinary learning are also important. For example, teachers working on a middle school curriculum unit on the Civil War should be able to access and search an online database of arts-based curriculum resources and strategies that would pull up such examples as the study guide (including graphics and audio/video files) of the Kennedy Center's production of Red Badge of Courage, the Library of Congress collection of Matthew Brady's photographs of the Civil War (1,100 searchable photos currently available online and on CD-ROM), and Kate's Pants and Civil War Women (a description of two one-woman shows with music and costumes, the first of which looks at women's rights through dress reform and the second of which examines the Civil War through the diaries of five women of the era). The application of new technologies to scavenge the attics, basements, and main stages of our arts and cultural institutions will enrich the K-12 curriculum as well as adult education and lifelong learning programs. With these applications, teachers can integrate historical, social, and cultural contexts to help students understand the cultural traditions of their communities in new and exciting ways. This type of access will also help the education community to nurture and strengthen a sense of cultural heritage among our nation's young people and their families.
Technology and the Creative Arts Process
Creative arts opportunities in K-12 settings traditionally have been limited by time, space, and access to materials--all of which have been expanded significantly by the advent of interactive technology applications. Networked computers now offer a virtual canvas and palette for students to explore their own creative sources in the visual or performing arts and to collaborate creatively with their peers. Most importantly, students can explore and manipulate images, sound, and multimedia source materials as part of creative problem-solving assignments. They can also build portfolios of their work (including new applications that digitize and store audio and video recordings), which they and their teachers can review and critique as their work evolves.
Arts institutions and artists will play an increasingly important role in the future by hosting online interactive projects for students. Coco Cohn, formerly an advertising media specialist in Los Angeles, has developed several projects with enormous potential. She established the Cityspace project, in collaboration with the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. This project invites young people to gather via CU-SeeMe, to share stories, pictures, sounds, and models of their own creation and to assemble them into an available, three-dimensional model. Most importantly, the "Cityspace" develops network communications and computer graphics skills among young people, thereby preparing them to use the Internet as an interactive tool and resource in the future.
Technology will be applied in the future to a conceptual model, entitled "From Page to Stage," that the Kennedy Center has developed for teaching about the performing arts. The model documents the progress of a theatrical piece through the entire production process. In the past, documentation has been limited to videotaping and editing portions of production meetings, interviews with key members of the production team, and segments from rehearsals and performance. In the future, networking technologies will allow students to participate more directly in this process, including holding live discussions with production team members as the work evolves.
Networked technology will also be used to expand traditional "artists-in-residence" programs by enabling students to work collaboratively with performing artists, for example, in the creation of a new play, musical composition, or dance. Artists will be able to extend their direct interaction with students on site by using two-way interactive video feeds and online telecommuting to involve students in the process of designing and executing a visual or performance piece. Students will gain enormous insight into the scope of work and critical analysis that is a part of the creative process.
The Kennedy Center and many other performing arts institutions provide opportunities each season for students and adults to interact directly with performing artists, directors, writers, designers, and other production team members. For example, junior high school students recently had an opportunity to ask Richard Thomas about the difference between his role as a director of the Kennedy Center's Red Badge of Courage and as an actor in the filmed version. Unfortunately, it is not currently feasible to disseminate such experiences over the Internet or via two-way video transmissions because of copyright and union issues.
Copyright and intellectual property issues significantly impact the current and future dissemination of visual and performing arts content over the Internet or via other distance learning applications. Current rules governing the broadcast (transmission) of limited portions of performances specifically restrict the use of such content to "news" and "marketing" purposes only, and usually limit this use to a period of time just prior to and during the run of a production in a given community or on national networks. Rights for recording and disseminating portions of performances and workshops conducted by artists for educational purposes are generally treated the same as commercial broadcast rights--which deters this kind of dissemination in most cases.
Actors Equity and the American Federation of Musicians currently demand that a producer of an educational video or a Web site with audio/video files pay the performer at the same minimum rate as if it were for commercial entertainment purposes on television or radio. Similarly, the author or composer of a work must be compensated under standard royalty and licensing agreements. Different but related issues also arise with the capacity of the Internet to disseminate high-quality reproductions of paintings, drawings, and other works from museums and galleries.
Institutions like the Kennedy Center are in the process of working with performing artists and union representatives to determine a reasonable and equitable framework that will enable them to take advantage of new interactive technologies for educational purposes. It will be important for both the arts community and the education community to rally behind this effort.
Issues related to the quality of electronic transmissions of visual and performing arts content are also of great concern to artists and arts institutions. The aesthetic value and rich meaning of the arts can be experienced only through high-quality audio and full-motion video delivery systems. Fortunately, the enormous technological advances in recent years portend a future that will indeed be able to meet this need.
Technology is providing useful tools and resources to build a new knowledge base for arts education. Expanded access to information and resources, plus opportunities to engage directly with artists and the creative process or otherwise experience real-time performances, are transforming the way we teach and learn about the arts. As a result, the arts are better positioned to take their place as a core subject area in the K-12 curriculum.
Most importantly, networking technologies are making it possible for students and teachers to draw upon performing arts-based tools, resources, and environments that were simply not available in the past. Technology enables today's students to explore, create, display (publish), and critique their work in the visual and performing arts as part of an ongoing collaborative and creative process that may include their teacher, artists, and peers. It also provides students with the opportunity to create portfolios of work that reflect personal growth and achievement and to gain a better understanding of their own inherent creativity and humanity.
These new and vital technologies to arts education will have a profound impact on arts education and will transform the way in which the average citizen understands and participates in the cultural life of his or her community.
1 The K-12 ArtsEd Listserv discussion threads can be viewed in the ARTSEDGE Community Center. The ARTSEDGE K-12 ArtsEd Listserv subscription address is
2 Virginia's Public Education Network (PEN) established the Anthology project as a mechnanism for schools and classes to become information providers as well as consumers (i.e., "to construct their own anthology of resources to include graphics, animation, and sound, as well as text"). Contact Dr. Jill Beck, Dean, School of the Arts, University of California, Irvine (project director).

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